Exodus - a roadmap for the centre-left presents sharp analyses and charts a course for at return to relevance in the eyes of the broad population for social democratic parties and their allies.
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UR IDEOLOGICAL FOUNDATION
OVE IT OR
HE DEMISE OF RESPECT
HE NEW ECONOMIC INEQUALITY
S PARTNERSHIP WITH THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY
WO EXPRESSWAYS TO FREEDOM
EDUCATION AND HEALTH
HE PUBLIC SECTOR
EOPLE AND DRUGS
HE PUBLIC CONVERSATION
Acommon refrain met me at every turn when I told the people in my life that I was writing a book: “Don’t do it!”
How in the world could an MP and member of the party’s top brass write a book to spark political debate amongst a public constantly on the lookout for the seeds of tomorrow’s furore – without damaging his party or his own standing? Call it imprudent if you will, but here it is.
In the process of writing this book, I have had frequent conversations with those around me about staying in tune with the party’s core political positions, while securing their blessings when charting a maverick course on other, less integral fronts.
Such is life as a member of a political party and an individual. You can’t agree on everything, but it’s also unfeasible if you disagree on matters at the heart of the party. Thank you to my fellow party leaders for accompanying me in this journey. I have drawn heavily on your input, learned much, and embraced your excellent advice.
And thank you to all those who warned me that most of the content in this book can be misused by the press, who may present isolated passages to fellow MPs and other party members as fodder for reports of internal discord on policy. The majority of you also thought that publishing this book was worth the effort nonetheless – opting not to do so would be acquiescing to journalistic tyranny.
Thanks to Mette Frederiksen for good advice and feedback. Thanks to Martin Rossen for many long talks on subjects far and wide. Thanks to Martin Justesen for support of all kinds. Thanks to Peter Strauss Jørgensen, Morten Høyer, Andreas Gylling Æbelø, Sten Kristensen, Thor Möger Pedersen, Sara Vad Sørensen, Dan Jørgensen, Nicolai Wammen and Peter Hummelgaard Thomsen for your contributions and critical acumen.
And special thanks to David Erritzøe, who sought to teach me about the world of drugs – I strongly emphasise that he can in no way be held accountable for the contents of this book. And thanks to all of you who risked the obliteration of your good reputations if it ever emerged that you had advised in connection with this book.
Thanks to Ørselv Kloster for ideal writing conditions.
Thanks to Hanne Malmborg for commas and comments. Thanks to Morgan Krüger for research. Thanks to AIA for many good contributions.
Thanks to my little family, Susanne and Nynne, who so often must bear the burden of seeing me discussed in the media and defending me.
And thanks to the Social Democratic Party for a lifelong and loving stay.
This is a debate piece on the centre-left. In the following, centre-left refers to all of the social democratically-minded parties near the centre and common sense, and at a good distance from the extreme socialist fringes. It is through the strength and positions of these parties that an alternative to populism, conservatism and liberalism must be forged and honed. Those currently revelling in the drastic left turns such as those in Britain’s Labour Party are doing so in vain. The Marxist ghosts of the past are not worth revisiting.
For the centre-left to once more become a societal pillar of cohesion and development, we must build on the best of what we have achieved thus far. Given their success in building welfare and securing broad political solutions, Europe’s post-WWII social democratic parties offer a useful blueprint, as do reform governments such as New Labour.
But to continue in these footsteps, the centre-left must formulate a relevant political platform for today’s issues and challenges. The absence of a relevant policy on immigration and globalisation has been a glaring failure of the centre-left throughout most of the Western world, leading to the utter decimation of time-honoured parties. This book examines and proposes policies on immigration, globalisation, the public sector, the public discussion, business, drugs, and Israel, and lays out why centre-left ideology is the best political idea of all time. It is not perfect and it is not complete, but rather a mission to be carried on to fruition by those who pick up the torch. And, of course, countless intriguing topics remain untouched by this book – topics which others would be far more suited to discuss. This is a proposal on how the centre-left can return to relevance.
Some of us have been given the honour of leading a magnificent and longstanding party for a time. It is our undeniable duty to care for the party to the best of our abilities, while guiding its evolution and adaptation to the world of today. The best advice of many would be to play it defensively and hope that wear and tear on the other side will eventually open the door for the centre-left once more. They may be correct. On the other hand, leading a government without a carefully planned platform and purely due to the incompetence of others is a tepid political ambition. The goal must be a centre-left that uplifts, shapes and defines society. This is the ambition of the New Centre-Left.
Freedom, equality and solidarity
What makes a person happy? The answers are many, but rarely is “politics” amongst the unsolicited answers. The notion that politics and political choices could make people happy would hardly garner much applause in any forum, while the opposite view – that poor political choices, poor political administration and poor politicians make people unhappy – would likely earn a much higher approval rating.
The answer is that politics – exercising power – can create the framework for people to be happy, and for them to be unhappy.
Around the world, people offer their lives in the fight for the right to vote – and thus for a share of power. And around the world, a host of maniacs fight to impose their interpretation of a happy life on others – or rather, they usually fight to put their own well-being first, at the expense of most.
Politics is a battle about means, prosperity, distribution, morality and souls – about hopes, tragedies, abuses, crimes, generosity and our limited collective resources. All these ingredients play a part in determining whether we achieve a decent and happy life. Thus politics is important and ever-relevant. As long as people walk the Earth, we will have to relate to life from a political perspective. There is no correct design, nor a key at the end of a book with all the answers. Our surroundings are constantly changing, thereby changing the basis and conditions for political choices. Politics is – and will remain – an integral condition of human existence, thereby rendering the decision-making parties and politicians all the more interesting. A party hoping to survive in the long term must base its politics on an ideology. A timeless and all-encompassing idea. An idea which can provide a direction and meaning in any age, and in the light of any technological, cultural or social developments. The centre-left builds on such an ideology: democratic socialism.
Democratic socialism rests on three pillars: freedom, equality and solidarity.
Freedom is the presence of dignified options for the individual.
Equality is equal rights and obligations.
Solidarity is unpersonified compassion for others.
Freedom is the presence of dignified options for the individual.
Human history is a story largely devoid of freedom. From archaeological studies of prehistoric times, we know that a scarcity of food combined with disease made life difficult and inhibited freedom. Throughout the history of civilisation, the scarcity of food alone has made life difficult for most people. Even today, despite the overwhelming biological success of humanity, millions still live on the brink of starvation.
When you’re hungry and don’t have the money or the means to fill your stomach, you are not free. Scavenging for roots in the earth or, for that matter, scouring through mountains of waste to find food has nothing to do with freedom – despite the fact that libertarians would likely define these people as free because their tax burden is next to nothing.
Unfortunately, political structures throughout the history of civilisation have largely entailed a dearth of freedom. Charming examples of tribal societies and small civilisations with a minimum of political oppression certainly exist, but societies have predominantly rested on the principle of all power and privilege to the strongest. Military victors became political leaders, calling themselves kings, emperors, etc – and usually imposing widespread oppression and exploitation of the populace for their own benefit.
These societies also lacked freedom, despite the edict of various conservative parties through the ages that royalty and nobility are god-given.
And speaking of God: for some reason, people throughout history have sought to make sense of existence through a religion typically affiliated with the local rulers and at times rivalling military dictators in their oppressive fervour. A god-given and thus predestined religion sets no person free – quite the contrary. This is what makes an interpretation of Islam as religious law so incompatible with a society where religion has been secularised for hundreds of years.
The prerequisites for freedom are access to sufficient resources, the freedom to choose the powers that be, and freedom from the religious doctrine of predestination.
The industrial revolution and the technologies ensuing in its wake have enabled the production of sufficient resources. We can now produce so much food that no one should starve. But distribution is another matter altogether.
Through assorted democratic reforms over the past 150 years, most European nations have successfully established true democracy, with populations able to elect and depose political leaders.
In a slow process beginning with the Renaissance, science and private life have managed to escape the suffocating grasp of religious morality.
The basic prerequisites for freedom are in place.
But, of course, this is a very superficial perspective. Rather than a homage to the progress of freedom, European history of the past 100 years is a long and tragic parade of setbacks, war, violence and persecution. The cornerstones of today’s freedoms are awash in bloodshed at the hands of Nazis, fascists and communists – atrocities driven by the worst of humanity, exacting a price paid primarily by Jews and young Americans and Brits who died for this cause. In an odd twist of fate, many of the angry young people who sometimes demonstrate against the United States have almost only the United States to thank for the freedom to do so.
But freedom is more than basic prerequisites.
Do a full stomach, the right to vote and freedom from religious intervention constitute a sufficient formula for freedom? For much of the right wing, the answer to this question is yes.
For the centre-left, the answer is no.
Historically, the centre-left has been responsible for expanding true freedom to include three major freedom projects: work, education and health.
No person is free without access to a job.
Photographs from the 1930s depict unemployed men standing in long lines, hoping to get work for just one day. There is very little or no aid available to them. Unemployment has skyrocketed as a result of the Great Depression. And waiting back home are families suffering from the lack of income. Doing something about this situation became the number one freedom project of the labour movement.
Working – and thereby generating an income for oneself and one’s family – is a fundamental right. Dignity is the product of a job that is tolerable and even desirable, with a yield that is sufficient for a decent existence for oneself and one’s family. Thus the rise of labour unions that ensure decent pay and working conditions. Thus the freedom to obtain an education and the freedom to apply for a wide range of jobs. Freedom is access to income compensation in the event of unemployment.
Freedom is having the opportunity to study, regardless of social and economic background.
In the past, the story was that if you were born in the working class, then you remained part of the working class. The opportunity and prospect of obtaining a higher education was largely non-existent prior to the welfare society of the 1960s. Regardless of how talented and industrious you were, your social background determined your future.
Breaking these chains became the second major freedom project of the centre-left.
If there are insurmountable economic barriers to getting an upper secondary, vocational or university education, then you do not have freedom. Thus the reason for educational grants, equal and free university access for all students, and the education guarantee for vocational students.
Freedom is also having the best available health care, regardless of social and economic background. If you have to haggle with an insurance company about your right to decent and full treatment for your illness, then you are not free, and if you are denied such treatment, you are ill off. When somebody is turned away at the door to a private hospital because of an inability to pay, the lack of freedom and justice is clear – at least, that is, to the centre-left.
Freedom is the presence of dignified options for the individual – in every significant aspect of life. Without access to work, education and health, there is no true freedom.
Equality is equal opportunities and obligations
The political history of humankind is one long struggle for freedom. A struggle to achieve freedom through equal rights. It is a struggle bathed in blood, be it that of the poorest serf or the modern-day soldier. Equal rights are so important that they are worth dying for.
Equal political rights have been at the forefront of this struggle. Equal and free choice for all adult citizens is a simple and – one would think – reasonable demand. Yet in 2018, this is still not customary around the world. Democracy is found in many incomplete versions; meanwhile, the most populated nations are governed by authoritarian means, and the right to vote is not a matter of course. Young people who have grown up in a secure and free material western life must sometimes be forced to look up from the entertainment of iPads and witness the international news, so as to realise that their world could be much different – and, hopefully, to be shocked by what they see.
The centre-left in European countries has led the charge for equal political rights. This includes voting rights for workers, servants and the poor – a right they had been denied by conservative forces. Women’s suffrage was also a key cause of the centre-left, as was the right of young adults to vote. Through more than 100 years of struggle, these battles have been won in spite of the right wing, which in most cases is left with nothing but the shame of being on the wrong side of history.
There have been plenty of frontal attacks on political rights hard earned through struggle – from Franco’s fascists, to Hitler’s Nazis and the long, oppressive reign of the communists in Eastern Europe. Driven by a hunger for power, Russia began spreading the plague of nationalism to easternmost Europe in 2015, undermining political civil rights; meanwhile, an ever-more radicalised version of Islam is being practised in the Middle East, whose population is oppressed in the name of religion. It is this version of Islam that many immigrants from the Middle East have brought with them to Europe. Democracy is by no means a given – it must be protected and fought for.
Political equality is a necessary component of true freedom, but it is not sufficient in and of itself. You can have the right to vote but live in such absurd poverty or misery that this right is largely meaningless.
And so it follows that economic equality is a prerequisite for a sustainability equality and freedom.
If a very small number of people, a royal family or an exotic gangster have stockpiled the majority of a nation’s wealth, the resulting inequality constitutes a massive and grotesque divide between rich and poor. This is because wealthy people rarely have a stop button. They incessantly seek the accumulation of more and more resources for themselves, and they typically have no social qualms in this pursuit. History is ripe with examples of the vulgar splendour and exhibitionist lifestyle of kings, while their subjects are literally starving at the castle gates.
Local dictators around the world continue to take this shameless approach – take Africa for example, which offers many examples of such disheartening behaviour over the past 50 years. However, similar stories are to be found on every continent. And the most depressing thing of all is that the progress of yesteryear is being dismantled in the English-speaking part of the world, where inequality is accelerating at breakneck speed.
The instrument for fighting economic inequality – while financing collective welfare in the process – is a just tax system.
The state and a progressive income tax system have been used to achieve greater economic equality and justice. Nearly all industrialised Western countries have gone from barbaric social and economic conditions to welfare states with greater income distribution. In this process, the wealth and influence of the pre-industrial giants and entrenched ruling class was decimated, and the working class became the middle class. A unique centre-left vision was realised through the creation of the welfare society, with one of the key methods being progressive taxation and extensive income distribution.
An effective and equalising taxation of incomes and wealth is a prerequisite for ensuring that the few do not hoard all the wealth. Just taxation is the number one enemy of the right wing (when they’re not busy meddling in what goes on in people’s bedrooms). For them, the income or wealth that you accumulate or inherit is a private matter into which society should intervene as little as possible. The centre-left has a multifaceted response to such a view: To begin with, people can rarely accumulate such massive income without the contribution of others, by which reasoning something has gone intrinsically wrong in distributing the value of this work; or, if the income is solely achieved through speculation on capital, the underlying products or consumers are the actual payers; or, if one inherits significant resources, the lack of proper taxation is problematic.
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